Antibiotics are no longer routinely used to treat infections for a number of important reasons
Many infections are caused by viruses so antibiotics are not effective
Even if the infection is bacterial, the use of antibiotics is unlikely to have much benefit in terms of speeding up the healing process and can cause unpleasant side effects
The more antibiotics are used to treat trivial conditions the more likely they are to become ineffective in treating more serious conditions because of antibiotic resistance.
For example, antibiotics are no longer routinely used to treat chest infections, ear infections in children and sore throats/
Your GP will only prescribe antibiotics to treat
Condition that are not especially serious but are unlikely to clear up without the use of antibiotics, such as moderately severe acne.
Conditions that are not especially serious but could spread to other people if not promptly treated, such as the skin infection impetigo or the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia
Conditions where there is evidence that using antibiotics would significantly speed up the recovery time, such as a kidney infection
Conditions that carry a risk of causing more serious complications, such as cellulitis (which is an infection of the deeper layer of the skin) or pneumonia (which is lung infection). Antibiotics may also be recommended for people who are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of infection. This may include:
People aged over 75 years
People with heart failure
People who have to take insulin to control their diabetes
People with a weakened immune system – either due to an underlying health condition such as HIV or as a side effect certain treatments such as chemotherapy
Intravenous antibiotics (injections or infusions of antibiotics directly into the blood or, less commonly, the muscles) are usually only required to treat more serious bacterial infections:
Septicaemia (blood poisoning)
Infection of the outer layer of the heart (endocarditis)
An infection that develops inside a bone (osteomyelitis) There are several different circumstances in which you may be given antibiotics as a precaution to prevent, rather than treat, an infection. This is known as antibiotic prophylaxis.
For example, antibiotic prophylaxis is normally recommended if you are having surgery on a certain part of the body that is known to carry a high risk of infection or that could lead to devastating effects if it were to become accidentally infected
For example it may be used if you are going to have:
Some type of eye surgery – such as cataract surgery or glaucoma surgery
Breast implant surgery
Surgery to remove the gall bladder
Surgery to remove the appendix
Your surgical team will be able to tell you if you require antibiotic prophylaxis.
Antibiotic prophylaxis may also be recommended if you have a bite or wound that has a high chance of becoming infected, for example because it has come into contact with soil or faeces.
There are also several medical conditions that make people particularly vulnerable to infection, meaning antibiotic prophylaxis is necessary. For example, people with the blood disorder sickle cell anaemia often have to take antibiotics for the rest of their lives as their spleen does not work properly. (The spleen plays an important role in filtering out harmful bacteria from the blood.)
Doctors can use a pedigree analysis chart to show genetic disorders are inherited in a family. They can use this to work out the probability (chance) that someone in a family will inherit a condition. This is called pedigree analysis.
All the family members are mapped onto a family tree. Those with and without a certain trait, in this case sickle cell disease, are shown. In the diagram those with sickle cell disease are shown by blue shaded symbols – squares for males and circles for